As the world marks the international day for press freedom, an annual event that brings to fore the need for the press to enjoy a certain level of freedom without molestation from state or non state actors, it is important to examine how Nigeria has been faring in the amount of freedom her press enjoys.
- No doubt the media is a key stakeholder in any Democratic institution. This key role apart from being a channel of of informing and educating the masses also arms the media with the constitutionally supported role of being the social watchdog in enhancing accountability and openness in government businesses.
Unfortunately, because of obvious reasons ranging from vested interests and endemic corruption, the journalists often run into trouble in the course of performing their duties to their fatherland with some having to pay the supreme price.
Still fresh in our memory is the late Dele Giwa who in 1985 was brutally murdered in a letter bomb by the then military junta. Most unfortunate, over 3 decades later, the identity of the killers of one of the finest breeds of journalists in our land remains a mystery.
That Nigeria has in the past 3 years ranked very low in World Press Freedom Index is an indication that all is not well with us. In 2016 for instance, we ranked a debasing 116 followed by 2017 when we ranked 122 and this year 119. What this tells you is that we have a problem at hand to deal with.
In 2017 alone about 12 journalist suffered some job hazards while performing their duties with some media houses recording a significant loss as a result of state actions while two journalists were killed. They are Famous Giobaro of Bayelsa State-owned radio station, Glory FM 97.1, who was shot dead on April 16; and Lawrence Okojie of Nigerian Television Authority, Benin, who was shot dead while returning from work on July 8.
The Online Media Practitioners Association of Nigeria (OMPAN) has also had its fair share of overzealousness of the security agencies who are poorly tutored on respect to rights of citizens. Early this year, a group of SARS unit of the Nigerian Police allegedly harassed a member of the Association on their way from a convention in Owerri, Imo state. I am particularly happy the new leadership of the Association has vowed to resist any attempt by anyone to treat its members with disdain and disrespect while doing their job entrenching a rich democratic ethos in our country.
Even the National President of OMPAN, Emeh James Anyalekwa is not spared of the harassment and intimidation. Being a blogger has its hazards and challenges and Anyalekwa knew what he signed up for when he floated IgbereTV. His incisive reportage of events, especially in politics unsettles government and politicians. This has attracted constant cyber-attacks on his blog but he has remained undaunted. To show how tenacious he has been, Anyalekwa would have been cowed when in October 2016, he was arrested by the DSS for some publications which the presidency Allegedly didn’t find palatable. But like many others, he has remained resilient.
These are all desperate attempts to gag the media and intimidate them into silence. All these have however not deterred our most dogged and resilient journalists from discharging their duties without fear of whose ox is gored. In March this year, a blogger and publisher of AbaCityblog.com, Mr. Ngozi Blessed Onwukwe, was abducted by unknown gunmen in Umuahia the Abia State capital for reports considered by some political power brokers to be unsavoury. On January 1 this year, a United Kingdom-based publisher, Daniel Elombah who was holidaying in his hometown of Nnewi, Anambra state was arrested by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad unit of the Nigeria Police Force.
The cases of deliberate harassment of journalists are too numerous to mention. Daily Independent Abuja Bureau Chief, Tony Ezimakor was few months ago arrested by the State Security Service for publishing a story on the alleged payment of $2 million to the Boko Haram terrorists for the release of some of the abducted Chibok girls.
These are all pointers to the fact that the media has been working in an environment laced with threats and dangers, which could consume us all if urgent steps are not taken to save the situation.
The government must begin to see the third estate of the realm as partners in nation building and not as dangers. This way, the high handedness against the media could be converted into fighting social vices like drug abuse, insecurity, corruption etc.
The security agencies must take proactive measures to ensure that journalists all over Nigeria are protected in and outside their work stations. This will not only boost their confidence but strengthen our quest for nationhood. The media practioners must at all times be objective and accurate in their reportage especially as the 2019 election draws nearer. They must avoid getting the atmosphere emotionally charged and abhour hate speeches. Their employers should make adequate provision to ensure their condition of service are meaningful with assurance cover in case of unforeseeable. This way, the journalists can give their best and our nation better for it.